Lorna Siggins , Western Correspondent with The Irish Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has denied claims that it was under political pressure to issue an early ruling on the licence application for the Corrib gas refinery in north Mayo.
The EPA was responding to criticism by the Shell to Sea campaign yesterday on the timing of its preliminary decision on a pollution prevention and control (IPPC) licence for the refinery being built at Bellanaboy.
The ruling has been welcomed by Shell E&P Ireland and its Corrib gas partners, Statoil and Marathon, and by the Pro-Gas Mayo group, comprising business interests in the area.
It is subject to a 28-day consultation period and may go to an oral hearing before a final licence is issued.
Shell to Sea said a decision was not expected before March 7th. However, the agency said this was the final date by which it must give a ruling.
As an independent body, it did not come under any influence in relation to the date of its decision, a spokeswoman said yesterday.
The licence deals with emissions and the environmental management of the facility. IPPC licences aim to prevent or reduce emissions to air, water and land, reduce waste and use energy/resources efficiently, according to the EPA.
Before a licence may be granted the agency must be satisfied that emissions do not cause adverse environmental impacts.
The EPA said that if approved, the proposed decision provided for the processing of 9.9 million cubic metres of natural gas a day which will be exported to the Bord Gáis Éireann distribution network.
The agency added that it was "satisfied that emissions from the refinery, when operated in accordance with the conditions of the proposed licence, will not adversely affect human health or the environment and will meet all relevant national and EU standards".
More than 85 conditions attached to the interim ruling refer to various aspects of the environmental management, operation, control and monitoring of the proposed refinery.
They include what the EPA describes as "strict controls" on emissions and a "high standard of treatment" of waste water which will be discharged from the terminal by a pipeline offshore.
The EPA said the discharge will be "outside" the Broadhaven Bay Special Area of Conservation.
The conditions, it said would be monitored by the Office of Environmental Enforcement, through "environmental audits, unannounced site visits and systematic checks on emissions".
An IPPC licence was applied for by the Corrib gas partners on December 8th, 2004, and the agency sought further information - specifically in relation to the environmental impact statement. This information was received on October 12th, 2006, and was available on its website for further submissions.
Submissions will be accepted during the 28-day consultation period, and an oral hearing may be requested by any person or group or by the applicant.